A glimpse behind the CEO veneer

The Australian Financial Review published a brief profile of the 53-year-old CEO of the ANZ Banking Group, Mike Smith, on 22 April 2010 (page 23, not available online).  The article ostensibly reported on an ambush and shooting that Smith experienced in South America in 2007 but it also revealed some of his attitudes to leadership and OHS.

Mike Smith stated that as a CEO of a large organisation

“…you really can’t have work-life balance”.

This is not to say that his staff cannot have such a benefit but it sends a message to all those would-be CEOs that personal safety, health and one’s family will be sacrificed if you reach the top.  The implication is that work-life balance needs to be sacrificed on the way to the top although Smith may be describing his own pathway.

Smith says in a positive tone that a CEO requires lots of energy and a passion for the job.  When asked where his energy came from, he “quipped”:

“I don’t know, Johnny Walker probably”.

This attempt at humour falls flat when one notes that executive addiction is an issue in some industries and a book of interviews on the issue was released earlier in 2010.

The article was clearly planned to be based on a chatty interview that personalises a prominent Australian businessman but OHS professionals (perhaps  “sticks-in-the mud”, like myself) do read the Australian Financial Review (although its readership is declining fast) to obtain insight into the corporate and financial world.  The circumstances of Mike Smith being shot in the leg in South America are fascinating but his admissions above are more telling as it is rare for a CEO to question the relevance of work-life balance or to reveal that he turns to alcohol for assistance.

Leadership does not mean a sanitation of one’s life, experience or views but occasionally one gets a glimpse of a CEO behind the controlled presentation.  The two issues mentioned above are just such a glimpse and provide a slightly different view on a couple of OHS matters than CEOs usually give.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, executives, fatigue, health, Leadership, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, violenceTags , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “A glimpse behind the CEO veneer”

  1. Kevin, I get your point but I feel you may be \’drawing a long bow\’ here. To me it reads like a blokey remark that in all probability he most likely regretted saying later or if he did not regret saying it then maybe thought (along with the journo)it added to the supposed candour/revelatory tone of the article (not having read it all difficult to say). Reading even deeper it could mean many other things, such as his regret at taking the path he has, missed apsects of a normal life as a result of the work he has done etc. , but saying he relies on alcohol to be a CEO is a tad unfair dont you think?

    1. Thanks for commenting but I did not say Mike Smith relied on alcohol to be a CEO.

      One of the challenges of being an executive is how to seem both human and a leader. It\’s a difficult balance when one\’s humanity may undermine one\’s credibility as a leader.

      I agree that the Johnny Walker comment seems like a throwaway and the fact that the journalist describes it as a \”quip\” supports this but, however it was intended, it was not funny.

      More revealing is his comment about work-life balance and it would be great to have a chance to ask Mike Smith to expand upon it as it could be very revealing about the sacrifices a career manager may be expected to make in the corporate world. If Smith\’s comment is the reality, one would need to seriously consider when to start a family, if at all. And society could ask whether we want CEOs who sacrifice work-life balance.

      Perhaps, Smith\’s comment will resonate more with the career women who have a more serious work-life balance decision.

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